After many hopeful hints and equally hopeful projections, we finally get the what could be called the Augmented Reality Google Maps. No dates yet, but Google has been generous in providing an Alpha version test drive.

As any Google Maps user will tell you, don’t place too much trust in the verity of the blue dot. As many times as it saved us the trouble of finding our bearings, a single backtrack due to poor GPS data read is one too many. The thing is extremely useful and we could not for the life of us imagine a life without it, but GPS doesn’t score many points on extreme precision. Many saw the solution for the Maps’ accuracy inadequacies by going AR – and that is precisely what GMs are doing. Augmented Reality Google Maps will be using a smartphone camera to zero in on the direction the blue dot is facing.

The solution is not new; we had the opportunity to feast our imaginations during last year’s Google I/O keynote show-off. Augmented Reality Google Maps were given space, name, but it was only there to quench our thirst for new and modern and futuristic. Not a year later and Google is handing out Pixel 3 XLs for running Alpha versions of the product. What pleasantly surprised us is that Google is not dishing the GPS and compass based location tracker for anything ‘techier’ – they’re great solutions if somewhat clunky in the accuracy department – but builds on top of the existing Maps platform. AR Google Maps are empowering cameras to act as position trackers. The ‘Visual Positioning System’ essentially means that cameras will be our eyes inside Maps.

Precision is only one of the problems that Google Maps has historically struggled with. Another one, and arguably equally troublesome, is the pop ups, pop ups everywhere. Big cities in particular have problems with displaying all interest points in a way that doesn’t drown the interface with information. Having your camera acting as a guide, you will basically see what it sees, and have Augmented Reality info built atop of layer of reality. Standing still or speeding through crowded streets, Augmented Reality Google Map cameras will be your eyes, guide, and wheel.  

Alpha test ride reveals a few more details. An obvious one is that all the AR information will come to users as a camera feed, another that Google’s ARCore is behind the wheel here. What is not so obvious but should come as no surprise is the sheer utility of the test version. Hitting the ‘Start AR’ the Maps open up in a matter of seconds and, something that used to take forever on a particularly bad day, location and direction tracking is done with extreme precision. If Alpha is this good, waiting for the real deal will take time. No dates or anything just yet.

Google Maps mark a small revolution in terms of how we interact with and understand space. Since its release the company has improved on virtually every point of interest so that now we have an extremely detailed 2D representation of – well – nearly everything almost everywhere. Augmented Reality Google Maps are now bringing our 3D selves into this world, hyping up accuracy to the extreme. Ready your smartphone cameras, folks.